17 furious days, part 2: Analyzing Steamboat’s freestyle and Alpine skiing Olympic hopefuls | SteamboatToday.com

17 furious days, part 2: Analyzing Steamboat’s freestyle and Alpine skiing Olympic hopefuls

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — More than 30 athletes with ties to Steamboat Springs started the season with some hope of a spot in the Olympics. Already a few have seen their dreams ended while others have greatly increased their chances. We will analyze the opportunity for Steamboat’s contenders over five days. Today is day No. 2, featuring the town’s freestyle and Alpine skiing athletes. 

Jaelin Kauf

Sport: Freestyle moguls

Jaelin Kauf

Ties to Steamboat:  She moved to town with her family before high school and moved to Park City, Utah, once she made the U.S. Ski Team in 2016.

Position: She’s at the top of a very strong team of U.S. women moguls skiers. She’s won one World Cup this season and was second in another. That makes her the only U.S. moguls skier so far to have met the official criteria to make the team. (Athletes can also make the team without those two podiums, but they aren’t guaranteed it.) It’s technically possible for four other U.S. women to get strong enough results in the four remaining contests to edge Kauf out, but it would take a truly Biblical series of events.

What needs to go right: Another top-two finish or any event without two other American women making a podium would make her a lock.

Chances: Almost lock. 99.9%

Chances at the Olympics: She’ll definitely be a contender for a medal, and perhaps, even the gold. She’s gone from a face in the crowd, albeit a talented one, to consistently on or near the podium in just the last half of a season, so perhaps some of her international competitors who’ve been at the top longer have better claim to the “favorite” label. That said, there’s no conversation about that gold medal now that doesn’t include Kauf. She’s shown up at big events, earning a bronze medal at the World Championships last March, and she got a tremendous start to the Olympic season.

Brant Crossan

Sport: Skier cross

Ties to Steamboat: Born and raised in town.

Position: It’s complicated. Crossan is one of two U.S. men on the hunt for the Olympics in skier cross. Each nation can send as many as four, but only 30 for all freestyle skiing events combined. Will the U.S. send two ski cross competitors at the expense of a fourth ski halfpipe athlete or a moguls skier? Unless both skiers prove they are medal threats, it’s doubtful. The team only sent one skier to the 2014 Olympics and two in 2010. So, it would behove Crossan to have a leg up on the other skier, California’s Tyler Wallasch.

What needs to go right: Crossan was the top-ranked U.S. ski cross competitor each of the last two seasons but, after four of seven Olympic qualifying events, Wallasch is slightly ahead in this season’s World Cup standings. So, Crossan needs a couple of strong finishes, starting with a pair of races next weekend in Idre, Sweden. The last opportunity to build his resume then comes Jan. 19 and 20 in Nakiska, Alberta.

Chances: Work to do. 50 percent.

Chances at the Olympics: Crossan hasn’t broken through in a major way on the World Cup. His best finish there is 11th and that was a sizable deviation from the norm. But, the last time he got the chance to ski in a big-ticket event, last spring at the World Ski Championships, he was 12th. If he can show up for the Olympics the same way, certainly top-20 is possible and a top-10 is within dreaming distance.

Olivia Giaccio

Sport: Freestyle moguls

Olivia Giaccio

Ties to Steamboat: A New York native, Giaccio came west to train first at Vail, then moved to Steamboat Springs to work with the Winter Sports Club and coach Kate Blamey. She didn’t linger long but only because she made the U.S. Ski Team within a year.

Position: Giaccio, just 17, is one of the youngest skiers on the U.S. team. She’s fourth so far among U.S. skiers in the World Cup standings and coming off her best result, a sixth-place finish at a World Cup in China. She earned a spot a year ago at the World Ski Championships, but, if you count Kauf as filling one spot, there are six or seven talented women vying for the remaining two or perhaps three spots on the team.

What needs to go right: A podium finish would be a huge boost to her chances. She scored her first and only World Cup podium last year in dual moguls but has two top 10s in singles, as well, so she’s plenty capable. There are four qualifying events remaining, and it seems like a toss up between those six women. Giaccio’s definitely in that mix.

Chances: Work to do: 50 percent

Chances at the Olympics: Hey, if she can fit into the top six at a individual moguls World Cup, there’s no reason she won’t be able to do the same at the Olympics. She hasn’t shown the aptitude yet to make the podium at the Olympics, but she’s so young such a breakthrough could come at any time. She’d be a bit of a dark horse for a medal, but it certainly wouldn’t be shocking.

Hig Roberts

Sport: Alpine skiing

Hig Roberts

Ties to Steamboat: Born and raised in Steamboat.

Position: Roberts hasn’t had a strong start to the season. He’s raced five World Cup events, all slalom and giant slalom, but hasn’t registered a result yet, either failing to finish or failing to record a fast enough first-run time to qualify for the second run. So, he’s not in a great position.

What needs to go right: He needs to finish some World Cup events to start to climb the rankings. It’s not an impossible climb. The top two Americans in the standings in each event will get a spot at the Olympics, and skiers in the No. 3 and No. 4 spots have a chance. He still has a World Cup spot in slalom, where he’s currently fifth among U.S. skiers. He has three chances to better his standings in that discipline.

Chances: Long shot: 15 percent

Chances at the Olympics: Roberts would be a long shot to medal at the Olympics, but, if he’s going to make the team at all he’ll need to pick up some momentum. A top-25 finish would be a strong result.

Avital Shimko

Sport: Freestyle moguls

Steamboat Springs skier Avital Shimko cuts down the moguls run at Winter Park Resort last month during the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team selections event. She went on to place second, which, with a first-place result from Monday, was enough to win the overall event and earn a start at a January World Cup event in Utah.

Ties to Steamboat: She grew up in New York City but has been living and training in Steamboat Springs for several years.

Position: Shimko wasn’t on the Olympics radar entering the season, but her results at the U.S. Ski Team Selections event last month at Winter Park changed that a little. As the top skier there, she earned starts at the World Cup events scheduled for Jan. 10 and 11 at Deer Valley Resort, Utah. Anyone on the World Cup can fight their way to the Olympics, so Shimko has a shot.

What needs to go right: The path she’d have to take to the Olympics isn’t unheard of, though it’s certainly unlikely. She’d need to win or come darn close to it in Utah, then keep up that performance a week later in Canada at the final qualifying event. It’s a lot that needs to go right, but she’s capable. She placed second last spring in the U.S. Freestyle Moguls Skiing National Championships in Steamboat Springs, going head to head against many of the same women she’ll need to beat out to make the Olympic team.

Chances: Long shot: 10 percent.

Chances at the Olympics: It’s hard to say how Shimko will stack up against top-tier international competition. She has podium results from Junior World Ski Championship events in the past and was third last season on the Nor-Am tour. Making the first finals round at the Olympics, with the top 18 skiers, would be a huge accomplishment.

Lennon Vaughan

Sport: Freestyle halfpipe skiing

Lennon Vaughan

Ties to Steamboat: Grew up in town.

Position: The U.S. men’s ski halfpipe ranks are filled with strong skiers and podium contenders. Vaughan’s on the younger side for that group and through three of five qualifying events, toward the bottom of it.

What needs to go right: Vaughan would need several huge results to climb into the top four on the team. He’s placed as high as 11th on the World Cup in the past but would need to do better than that to get close to making the team. He’s likely to be a better candidate to make the team in the future.

Chances: Long shot: 2 percent

Chances at the Olympics: Anyone who makes the U.S. team will be a contender for a medal, so if Vaughan can piece together a run to make the team, there’s no reason the podium should be out of reach. But, the main reason that’s true is the U.S. team is loaded, which is what makes Vaughan’s potential run for the rings so difficult in the first place.

Sammy Schuiling

Sport: Freestyle halfpipe skiing

Ties to Steamboat: Born in Telluride, grew up in Steamboat and now trains with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

Position: Schuiling, 17, is on the U.S. Ski Team’s rookie ski halfpipe squad and is one of the youngest athletes aiming for the Olympics. It’ll be difficult. He’s near the bottom of the standings after three of the five qualifying events.

What needs to go right: He’ll need some big-time results. He made finals in a qualifier at Copper Mountain last month, a very solid step. He’ll need at least one and likely two top-three finishes, however. The U.S. team is overflowing with talent, which makes things very difficult on a young skier hoping to squeeze in and grab a coveted Olympic spot.

Chances: Long shot: 2 percent.

Chances at the Olympics: The same logic applied to Vaughan applies here: if Schuiling can somehow find his way onto the team, that has to mean he’s skiing strong enough to contend. In all seriousness, however, just being involved in the process this go-around is good for both skiers and will have them prepared for a more serious shot if they so desire in 2022.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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